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Max Eastman: A Life

"A subtle portrait."
The Wall Street Journal

"Well told ... a thorough scholarly biography."

"Electrically readable."
The Vineyard Gazette

"Christoph Irmscher’s new biography uncovers
some new details of Eastman's life,
but also gives us an opportunity to reconsider
the hopes and failures of radical politics
in the 20th century, and their possibilities in the 21st."
The London Review of Books

"A treat ... a well-written biography ....
Irmscher is a lively writer who creates a rich portrait of a complex man."
The Seattle Times


Max Eastman (1883–1969), a prolific poet, editor, and political gadfly, helped shape the twentieth century. While researching this masterful work, acclaimed biographer Christoph Irmscher was granted unprecedented access to the Eastman family archive, allowing him to document little known aspects of the famously handsome and charismatic radical. Considered one of the “hottest radicals” of his time, Eastman edited two of the most important modernist magazines, The Masses and The Liberator, published books on poetry and laughter, and campaigned for women’s suffrage, sexual freedom, and peace.

A fierce critic of Joseph Stalin, Eastman befriended and translated Leon Trotsky and remained unafraid to express unpopular views, drawing criticism from both conservatives and the Left. Set against the backdrop of several decades of political and ideological turmoil, and interweaving Eastman’s singular life with stories of the fascinating people he knew and loved, this book will have broad appeal to readers interested in twentieth century history and politics, intellectual history, and literature.


“A shrewd, important, and revealing portrait of the ever-unrepentant Eastman.”—Jill Lepore, author of Joe Gould’s Teeth

“Eastman deserves a reintroduction, and Irmscher has done a magnificent job of dramatizing his life.”—George B. Hutchinson, Cornell University

“Christoph Irmscher has written a truly humane biography of a life that captures the last century’s transformations. Richly illustrated with photographs, artwork, letters, and published documents, Max Eastman gives the reader a full sense of the man who wrote poetry as well as trenchant political, literary, and philosophical essays, and who retained a lifelong interest in the sources of humor and laughter.”—Werner Sollors, author of The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s

“This revolutionary turned reactionary deserves to be studied again. A polarizing figure—much celebrated, much reviled—he was a true American original, and this clear-eyed biography is equal to the task.”—Nicholas Delbanco, author of Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

“It’s difficult to be a legend, but Max Eastman has at long last acquired the absorbing and revelatory biography he ought to have. Christoph Irmscher’s textured portrait is written with self-confident clarity, a keen archaeological eye, superb craft, and exemplary evidentiary standards. Surely definitive, Max Eastman disdains closets and dark places to reveal what it was like to have lived one of radicalism’s most remarkable lives.”—Alan M. Wald, H. Chandler Davis Collegiate Professor of English Literature and American Culture, University of Michigan


Watch the trailer for Max Eastman: A Life

Archie Henderson, an independent scholar and lawyer in Houston, TX, is the author of Conservatism, the Right Wing, and the Far Right: A Guide to Archives, forthcoming from ibidem Press. His bibliography, the most complete listing of the countless archives with Eastman material, appears here with his permission. Questions for Dr. Henderson may be directed to me via the contact form on this site.